Today’s Landscaping Challenges

In the following passage from Trees in the Landscape, first published in London 1983, the following question is posed while presenting a more romantic take on sustainability concerns: have we the faith in the future that is needed to do the planting? Rarely are matters of faith taken into consideration when bombarded with the facts, figures, charts and graphs that comprise the body of modern environmental science; yet, perhaps we’re putting the cart before the horse by reducing the problem ecological collapse to a set of C02 targets and benchmarks. Perhaps our love of the natural landscape is what must precede all else. After all, should we not be good stewards of the earth regardless of what the data is telling us? Do we really need empirical data to inspire in us a reason to foster a connection with the natural world? Perhaps, as the article suggests, “this is the frame of mind we need to develop if we are to see the beauty of our countryside re-established.” We found this article to be both refreshing and charming. Let us know what you think…

There are parts of our countryside so denuded of trees that any planting is better than none, and there are waste areas too small for farming and too isolated for building that would benefit by any sort of tree planting. Have we the faith in the future that is needed to do the planting? If so, have we the interest to see that only the most appropriate trees are planted with a definite eye on the embellishment that only the right choice can give? This faith in the future is partly bound up with the age of the planter. At twenty any trees would probably satisfy; the fact that we might watch them growing through the years, overtopping quickly our tiny selves, would in itself give great satisfaction. Few of us, however, look after an estate or garden for fifty years. Even so, if we have faith in beauty, to be planting trees at the age of seventy gives you equal pleasure. And I would add that it is possible this passage will be read by those who help and advise others to plant, in which case age is of little importance. Fifty years is a long time in anticipation, but short in retrospect. If we know and watch a landscape or a garden for even a quarter of a century our memories and our photographs will quickly prove that we are tending a living work of art, a prospect pulsating with life, and not a static piece of scenery. Nothing is static; old trees decay and fall, opening a new view; young trees shoot up giving new strength to a glade or group; a hedge obscures a special view, or when laid, opens up a new level; a tree leaning ever outwards darkens a sheet of water, or a lake is invaded by creeping rushes and weeds. Though growth in the main is regulated by the passing seasons no two years are alike and no two have the same effect.

It is not until one has watched natural growth year by year that one begins to understand the meaning of patience and all the good it brings. If we learn this we shall find ourselves looking with equanimity on the apparent slowness of trees, with the same sense of satisfaction as our forbears of the eighteenth century. How hard it must have been for the head gardeners and groundsmen, tending their parterres and avenues, their hedges and topiary, to learn that because Mr Lancelot Brown had made a visit, all was to be swept away and that the cattle were to be encouraged to browse up to the very windows! And that belt after belt and clump after clump of little trees- common native trees – were to be their care for the rest of their working days! Yet this is the frame of mind we need to develop if we are to see the beauty of our countryside re-established. There are those who will quickly grasp what is needed in the way of practical things – fences, posts, seedlings and the like. Humphry Repton had to learn these things because he was by nature and partly by upbringing an artist; he began with the grand design. We too should begin with art, so that the practicalities can follow, and if necessary bring adjustments to the scheme.

Having decided that certain fresh plantings or re-plantings are needed, it is advisable to schedule a long-term plan, obviously tackling the most needy section first. Less urgent areas can wait if necessary for some years, and this will have the advantage that woods and groves will not all be at the same stage of growth in, say, fifty years, nor for that matter in old age. There is also the question of tree surgery; it is expensive but it certainly prolongs the life of some picturesque old trees, especially oaks and Sweet Chestnuts. There is not only picturesqueness to the be considered, but also, if the area is open to the public, the danger of falling branches from untended trees.

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